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Hitachi

Hitachi Research Institute

President Column

Commentary by our President, Keiichi Shimada

#11:Digital and Connections

Every year, various institutions and companies publish a “word of the year” as common events at the end of the year in each country. Depending on the presenters, selected words seem to be different. Some words are related to individual trends and others are political or economic. The Oxford English Dictionary*1 annually publishes “Word of the Year.” According to the Oxford Languages website, the words are discussed and selected among the parties concerned, referring to English news sources and its wording trends.

The words chosen can be said to represent the concerns and public opinion of people in the English-speaking world, particularity in developed countries, at that time. It may also be said that we can understand the change of the world’s circumstances by looking at the transition of these words over time. For example, in the 10 years from 2011 to 2019, the following terms were selected for political, economic, social and technological matters.

“squeezed middle” (2011): The early 2010s was a period when corporate earnings recovered from the financial crisis that originated in the United States, but employment did not grow. This period was known as a jobless recovery. The middle class was greatly affected and squeezed out of the market.

“GIF” (2012), “selfie” (2013), “emoji” (2015): In 2007 the iPhone was introduced, in 2010 the iPad came, and in 2008 Google registered emoji originating in Japan with Unicode, the global standard for character encoding. Since then, the number of smartphone and tablet users has expanded not only in developed countries but also in emerging countries. This was the era when digital technology has penetrated in our daily lives through connections with online communities and social media.

“post-truth” (2016), “youthquake” (2017): Post-truth; where politics is driven by public opinion shaped by personal beliefs and emotions rather than facts. Youthquake; in which the actions of the youth generation move the world. Come to think of it, 2016 was the year President Trump was elected in the United States. As I recall, before that, Senator Sanders, who advocated democratic socialism, caused a whirlwind in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. He was also supported by younger voters.

“toxic” (2018), “climate emergency” (2019): PM 2.5 air pollution, harassment and other harmful human relationship issues gained attention in 2018. Starting in 2015, when the Paris Agreement to curb climate change was agreed upon, discussions on a concrete framework to address climate change issues progressed to 2019. It was also a year of increased activity by environmental groups.

The oil shock, the end of the Cold War, the bursting of the Dot-com bubble: With each successive shock, the world changed its social, political and economic systems drastically. The 2010s was a period when the center of growth in the global economy shifted from developed countries to emerging countries in the wake of the shock of the financial crisis originating in the United States. In this context, social, political and economic changes occurred in developed countries, such as economic disparity, the growing power of digital communities and public opinion, and the growing problem of climate change, as in the “Word of the Year.”

Then, the 2020s began with the coronavirus pandemic. What kind of era are we facing from now on? In the 2010s, as the purchasing power of developed countries declined and emerging countries advanced their industries, the movement of goods across countries and regions slowed down, and the U.S.-China conflict over trade and advanced technology became apparent. Contrarily, the movement of people and money had increased. However, the latest shock is pouring cold water on the movement of people and money.

On the other hand, during the coronavirus pandemic, connection between the people in cyberspace and digital connection of the supply chain are both strengthening. By connecting people and businesses digitally through virtual space, the possibility of economic revitalization is spreading. While the localization of physical goods and people may continue for the time being, the globalization of goods, people and money via digital will continue to accelerate. Eventually, once infections are contained, the movement of physical goods, people and money may be restored, but behavior of them will change along with digital connections. It will be important for us to link digital connections to real economic growth and people's sense of purpose in life.

*1
Oxford Languages, "Word of the Year," Oxford University Press, https://languages.oup.com/word-of-the-year/, accessed 18th April, 2022